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Small Print Collection: Print #5

Ono no Komachi

David's New Year card for 1994

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The print you see here is one that marked a bit of a special occasion for me - this was the new year card I sent out just as I reached the half-way point in the long Hyakunin Isshu series, the end of five years of work.

I wrote in last month's story about the way that my printing and carving work was held within certain limits while I was working on that series; because the prints were reproductions, I certainly wasn't 'free' to do whatever I liked with them. For the first two years of work, I stayed very close to the originals, hesitating to try and 'improve' on them, but from the third year, I started to pay less attention to the colouring of the original, by creating attractive colour schemes of my own - always trying to keep things within the overall style of the series.

After a couple more years went by, I began to be a bit frustrated with the lack of challenge in the carving, and as the fifth year of work began I made a promise to myself that 'this year will focus on improving my cutting ability.'

My prints were enlargements from the original book, and because of this, all the delicate hairlines on the original had become large and fat. I realized that there was no reason to copy so slavishly though, so one day I took a deep breath, and tried cutting the hairlines on one of the prints at the same small scale as the original. It came out quite well, and from that time on, I looked forward eagerly to challenging myself with each new 'head of hair' that came to my workbench.

(In case you are thinking that this was an unwarranted change of the artist's design, please remember that back in the Edo era such details as individual hairs were not actually drawn one-by-one by the designer, but were left up to the block cutters to complete. I was just continuing the tradition: 'cut it as well as you are able').

So of course, when the time came for making a new year card at the end of that year, I was ready to 'show off' my new-found carving skills, and created a design containing such small detail that I could barely see it!